Dr. Franz X. Vollenweider is a professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of Zurich. Also, he is co-director of the Center for Psychiatric Research, the director of Neuropsychopharmacology and Brain Imaging, and a medical doctor. In addition, he directs the Consciousness Studies section of the Heffter Research Center in Zurich. The center conducts advanced studies using psilocybin for treating cancer patients in distress and people with addictions.
Dr. Vollenweider received his doctorate and medical degrees from the University of Zurich. Over the course of his career he has published over 100 scientific papers. His main research area is understanding the mechanisms of psychostimulants, hallucinogens, and entactogens in humans.
The effects of LSD on serotonin receptors in the brain is one of Dr. Vollenweider’s current areas of focus.1–7 In his most recent work, he studied how LSD could help people who have social impairments related to a psychiatric disorder.6 Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) he found LSD reduced activity in areas of the brain important for ‘self-processing’ and social cognition (how people process, store, and apply information about social situations and other people). He also discovered the effects of LSD were blocked by ketanserin, a serotonin 5-HT2A receptor agonist. Vollenweider concluded substances that effect 5-HT2A receptors can change social behaviors in humans, pointing to a possible treatment route.
Dr. Vollenweider is also studying the effects of psilocybin on human behavior, brain function, and serotonin receptors in the brain.8–20 In 1998, he showed that a schizophrenia-like psychosis in humans brought on by psilocybin was caused by its antagonism to the serotonin 2A receptor.15 This was the first time any researcher had shown that psilocybin-induced psychosis could be caused solely by activation of the serotonin 2A receptor.
In another first, Vollenweider and his team looked at how psilocybin alters time perception and people’s ability to keep a beat.11 Twelve healthy volunteers were selected for a double-blind placebo-controlled study. Subjects who took psilocybin had difficulty reproducing beat intervals longer than 2.5 seconds. They also had difficulty synchronizing with beats that had intervals longer than 2.0 seconds. Also, they were slower than controls when replicating their preferred tapping rate. The subjects reported changes in their conscious state described as ‘depersonalization’ and ‘derealization.’ They also experienced deficits in their working memory. The researchers concluded, “the serotonin system is selectively involved in duration processing of intervals longer than 2 to 3 seconds and in the voluntary control of the speed of movement.” The effects are thought to be due to psilocybin’s interactions with the 5-HT2A receptor.